What happens when the church takes responsibility for its own Bible translation?

(Photo: Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

A major shift in Bible translation is happening. The growth of the global church, coupled with the reach and capability of digital technology, is enabling the Church to play a key role in Bible translation and the broad distribution of translated Scriptures.

Traditional Bible translation methods have provided scriptures for millions of people but cannot keep pace with the demand. However, over time other options started emerging, and the Church wanted to take responsibility. There was a hunger like never before to have the Scriptures in their heart language, to go deeper, playing their part in their theological formation and discipleship-making.

This is church-centric Bible translation (CCBT), and this new paradigm is already connecting people in previously unreached people groups to the Word of God. As this new process takes place it taps into a big global vision, the Church in every people group, the Bible in every language, and that's what excites us.

At unfoldingWord, we see our job as facilitators of this process, smoothing the path of any obstacles. To do this, we provide the church with free access to biblical resources and Bible translation technology, open licensing everything the global church needs (e.g., content, tools, and training) to make excellent translations in record time. Together with our international partners, we are making these resources available in all the gateway languages, so the church can access Bible translation resources through a language they already understand. This then provides a way into unreached languages, a translation shortcut that takes a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost.

So, what happens when the global church takes this responsibility?

First, it creates ownership. It becomes not just the Bible, but our Bible. We experienced this in 2019, with the dedication of 12 translations of the New Testament created using CCBT in South Asia, the fruit of a pilot project between Every Tribe Every Nation, Wycliffe Bible Translators, unfoldingWord, and the South Asia ministry. The new translations showcased how well CCBT worked as the task was completed by recently planted churches in 12 remote communities* in the foothills of the Himalayas. The time taken was only two years – an incredible achievement. As celebration broke out, the onstage screen summed up the eternal legacy of their hard work: 'Now 12 languages will never be without the Word of God.'

Second, we find profound works of evangelism and discipleship occurring through the translation process. People come to Christ and understand the Bible in a much deeper way than ever before. The word of God as alive and active was demonstrated in an extraordinary way in Chad when a group called Projet Croissance des Eglises au Tchad (PCET) asked unfoldingWord to help run a CCBT workshop as part of their church-planting mission.

Training was delivered in English and translated into both French and Chadian Arabic. Forty-five Muslims from 10 language groups were greatly impacted by the Open Bible Stories they were translating. "Who exactly is this Jesus person?" they kept asking. "We've heard about him all our lives, but not like this."

Former Christian missions had never seen any fruit in these people groups, but the CCBT workshop resulted in three churches being birthed when a local chieftain who'd formerly followed Islam and the occult, came to Christ. In another community, new believers were baptized, and two new churches were planted. The Sultan of a third came to Christ and in a fourth community* underground converts are now being discipled.

When the church takes responsibility for its own Bible translation, God's power is released, and the church is built up and strengthened.

Imagine the time when the global church has expanded into every people group, that everyone is within reach of the Gospel. Imagine every disciple in every people group with unhindered access to excellent translations of the Bible and biblical resources. This is our heartfelt prayer.

*names withheld for security reasons.

David Reeves is CEO of UnfoldingWord. For more information on CCBT or to support the work go to https://www.unfoldingword.org